As another harsh Wisconsin winter comes to an end, the streets of the state’s largest city are crumbling with potholes. However, Milwaukee is not getting any money in the first phase of local road and bridge repair funds from the federal stimulus package.
Gov. Jim Doyle announced Wednesday that he is asking the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance to authorize spending $42.5 million in federal economic stimulus money on 49 local road, bridge and transportation projects in the state.
However, very few of those 49 projects are in southeastern Wisconsin, the most populated area of the state.
- Waukesha County is getting a project for the Valentine Road Oconomowoc River bridge.
- Washington County is getting improvement projects for County Line Road, Lannon Road in Germantown and the County Highway W bridge over the east branch of the Rock River in the Town of Addison.
- Walworth County is getting a project for Martin Street in the Village of Sharon.
- Milwaukee County received only one project in the first round – the repair of the River Road bridge in the Village of River Hills.
The fact that Milwaukee was stiffed in the first phase of transportation stimulus funding frustrates Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. According to a report late last year by the city comptroller’s office, the average neighborhood street in the city will not be repaved or rebuilt for 106 years at the current rate of repairs
"I want to repair these streets, and I want to put people to work," Barrett said.
The city has several neighborhoods with high levels of unemployment and streets in dire need of repairs, Barrett said. Putting people to work fixing deteriorating roads in low-income neighborhoods is exactly what President Barack Obama is trying to accomplish, Barrett said.
"I want that money going into repairing local streets that are traveled on daily on an extensive basis," Barrett said.
The projects that were selected by the state were deemed "shovel ready" infrastructure projects from local officials that could benefit from federal stimulus funding.
"The department (of transportation) received many local project applications," said Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi in a Feb. 27 letter to local government officials. "Project eligibility was limited to the extent that the projects could be ready for bidding and construction in the very short timeframe initially set. Unfortunately, a very limited number of the project applications qualified."
More funds for local road and bridge projects may be allocated for the Milwaukee area later. The federal stimulus bill will provide about $529 million to the state for highway and bridge projects. Of that total, about $158 million will be available for local roads and bridges, Busalacchi’s letter says. Of that $158 million, about $38.7 million will be used "within the Milwaukee urbanized area."
The "Milwaukee urbanized area" obviously includes the city of Milwaukee, but also suburban communities, Barrett said.
Walker didn’t apply
Unlike most local officials in the state, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker declined to submit a project wish list for federal stimulus funds. Walker said he would accept stimulus funds for infrastructure projects only if no local match is required, no long-term commitments are mandated by the federal government and no new future operating or maintenance expenses would be required.
Although Walker did not submit a project wish list, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway did. So did the county’s Public Works Department. According to Jack Takerian, acting director of transportation and public works for Milwaukee County, three county infrastructure projects submitted by the department were eligible for the first phase of funding: the reconstruction of Silver Spring Drive from 69th to 124th streets; the reconstruction of Good Hope Road from 76th to 107th streets; and the reconstruction of Hampton Avenue from 108th to 124th streets.
However, none of those projects received federal stimulus funds in the first allocation announced Wednesday.
Milwaukee County’s Public Works Department will continue to apply for funds for infrastructure projects in future funding allocations and will stay within the parameters set by Walker for stimulus funds, Takerian said.
"We’re going to apply for everything that we can apply for that meets the requirements," Takerian said. "We are hoping if we don’t get funding in the first phase to get something in subsequent phases."
Barrett said he is confident that the city will get some funds for street repairs at some point. However, he wishes the state placed a greater emphasis on repairing city streets and less emphasis on widening highways.
About $97.6 million in federal stimulus funds have been allocated for the $1.9 billion reconstruction and widening of I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.
Barrett is concerned that the City of Milwaukee will get less federal stimulus funds for street repairs because the region is getting so much for the freeway project. Barrett supports the I-94 reconstruction project, but he opposes the plans to widen the freeway from six lanes to eight.
"That is sort of being portrayed as the Milwaukee project," Barrett said. "Don’t tell me we’ve gotten our share for giving us $200 million for something we fought against."
Barrett says the $200 million portion of the project for widening I-94 should instead be spent on needed repairs to local streets and is an example of the state’s misplaced priorities.